While Dallas ISD is debating a change to their rules in order to make their campuses more gay-friendly, two local universities have landed, once again, on the Princeton Review's list of "LGBT Unfriendly" schools. Released last week as part of Princeton Review's mammoth collection of college rankings, the list ranks SMU as the 12th most LGBT-unfriendly school in the nation, and University of Dallas in Irving as the ninth (Texas A&M also clocked in at No. 10). As our friends over at the Dallas Voice noted, Baylor is off the list, after appearing there for the past several years. One of those universities is vocally fighting their inclusion, saying the rankings are based on crappy methodology.
"We don't feel this accurately reflects the climate on campus," Karen Click told us emphatically. She's the director of SMU's Women's Center, which also houses Spectrum, their LGBT student organization. "There are a lot of policies, budgetary initiatives and programmatic initiatives at SMU that do support the LGBT community in ways that most universities do not," she added. She listed domestic partner benefits for faculty and staff, nondiscrimination policies for LGBT students, four on-campus LGBT student organizations, and two full-time staff that work with queer students among the things that SMU does to make the school a better place.
"To see us ranked this way is a little bit frustrating," she said.
Sounding tired, Click added that she's been fielding phone calls about this list for five years, ever since she took the job.
"I spend time talking to reporters about this on an annual basis," she said. Meanwhile, University of Dallas, a Catholic school seems, shall we say, not too surprised about their inclusion. They sent over a statement describing their campus as "enthusiastically Catholic," but noting that they "are focused on providing a supportive environment to all of our students. We believe that all human persons are made in the image and likeness of God and deserve love, respect, and compassion. Within that framework, the religious and secular activities and events on the UD campus are open to all students regardless of their race, religion or sexual orientation."
Last year, Click said, SMU submitted a formal response to the Princeton Review, a private company with headquarters in Manhattan. "It didn't make a difference in the ranking for last year," she said. "We now have a worse ranking, in fact."
More frustrating to Click and other SMU administrators, though, is the fact that the ranking seems to be based on the way SMU students answer just one question on an 80-part survey submitted by college students around the country. A school is listed as LGBT-friendly or not based on how students respond to the query, "Do students, faculty and administrators at your college treat all persons equally regardless of their sexual orientations and gender identify/expression?"
"As an administrator whose job is to support the LGBT community on campus, the Princeton Review doesn't tell me anything that's helpful," Click said. "Last year we participated in the Campus Equality index through Campus Pride, a college-based national non profit. They ranked us four out of five stars for LGBT support. But more importantly, they gave us a big list of areas we're succeeding and areas we can improve." It's not clear how many SMU students actually responded to the survey or specifically answered the LGBT question
Harvey Luna and Sammy Partida are both 19-year-old sophomores at SMU and co-presidents of Spectrum, the largest LGBT student organization. "We're not a perfect institution, but we definitely shouldn't be on that list," Luna said. "SMU has been actively trying to make it an inclusive campus." He pointed out several faculty who are openly gay, but added that the school still needs to create gender-neutral housing and restrooms and add an LBGT student senator to the student government.
Partida agreed, adding that the Review's survey question was "too vague." "They need to be able to define what 'very little' means, and what type of discrimination we're talking about, at least." He said he'd heard about the rankings two years ago, when he was still a prospective student. "I entered the school knowing about the ranking, and I chose it in spite of that. When I went on my prospective tour, I thought the ranking wasn't reflective what I'd seen there."
Partida and Luna say that Spectrum wants to submit a letter to the Princeton Review, calling the ranking "inaccurate and misleading." "There might be a small set of students who don't necessarily have a positive outlook on LGBT issues," Luna said. "But there are a great many more who are actively helping the LGBT students through Spectrum to denounce homophobia."
Finally, we called David Soto, the director of college ratings at the Princeton Review, to chat about their methodology.
"We work directly with the administration to administer a survey on each of the campuses," he told us. "We survey the student body and collect a representative sample. That's how we're able to tally the LGBT friendly and unfriendly lists, along with our other rankings."
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Soto too pointed out that SMU has been on this list four of the last five years."But they're also on several of our 'good' lists," he said, including "Great College Town," "Most Accessible Profs," "Best Athletic Facilities" and "Best Career Services."
"I don't think SMU would refute the good lists they're on," Soto said. "So I think calling our methodology into question is really not a legitimate thing to do, when we also laud them for doing great things on campus."
Soto added that often the Princeton Review lists lead campus administrations to "creative initiatives to change behavior," something that's happened previously with universities that land on the "Party Schools" roster.
"We applaud SMU for taking the right steps and moving in the right direction," he said. "However, the student sentiment on campus is still that it's number 12 on this list. If administration feels this is not accurate, we're more than happy to re-survey and see where SMU lands next year."